"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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The full amount of the dower becomes payable in two cases. If the marriage is consummated, or if either husband or wife dies before its consummation. If consummation takes place, and the dower has not been paid, or it has been agreed to defer it, the wife may claim it at any time, and it is payable without delay.

As it is mentioned in the Qur'anic verse quoted above, it is possible for a woman to forfeit part or whole of the dower willingly. If she does that out of her own free will and without any pressure by her husband or her parents or by social traditions, then the husband may accept that gift from her and he can enjoy it as something that has been given to him freely.

As mentioned earlier, the dower becomes payable when either man or wife dies, even though no consummation of the marriage has taken place. It goes without saying that in the event of the death of either spouse after the consummation of the marriage, it becomes also payable. If the man dies first, then it is treated as a debt which he owes to his wife. It is common knowledge that the first thing to be paid from an estate of a deceased person is his debts.

His heirs are not to claim any portion of what he has left behind until his debts are cleared and his will is executed, provided that the will does not exceed one third of his property. Hence, if a man dies with a portion of the dower he had agreed with his wife, still unpaid, that portion is to be treated as a debt. If what he has left behind is not sufficient to pay the dower, then his children and other heirs should jointly settle it.

If the woman dies first and her dower is unpaid, in full or in part, then what remains outstanding of it must be paid into her estate straight away. It may well be needed to settle an outstanding debt. If the woman does not owe anybody anything, the outstanding dower is part of the money due to her heirs. Her husband will, needless to say, be among her heirs, but he must first pay the dower into her estate. If he cannot pay, a set off against his share of inheritance from her may be made. To do so, her estate may be calculated including the dower. The portion of her husband is then calculated. As you know, a husband inherits one quarter of his wife's estate if she has any children. If she has no children, then he inherits half of it. When his share is determined, the amount of the dower is taken out of it and the balance is either paid into the estate or paid to the husband, as the case may be.

The questioner raises the point of a woman forfeiting her right to her dower at the time when her husband is about to be buried. He further says that this is customary in his part of the world. Well, the Qur'anic verse quoted above says that if they, meaning your wives, "Of their own accord, give up to you any part thereof, then enjoy it with pleasure." The operative phrase here is 'of their own accord'. Any forfeiting of any part of the dower, whether in lifetime or after his death, must be done willingly by the woman. When it is traditional for a woman to do so, when her husband dies, then a woman may think it is unbecoming of her not to forfeit her dower. What is important here is that a widow should be properly informed before she makes her decision. She should be told that by doing so, she is actually making a gift of her dower to the other heirs. Her deceased husband does not benefit by it. It is certainly open to her to forfeit it, in the same way as anyone to whom the deceased owes some money may forfeit his debt. If a woman thinks that she has enough to live on, and she wants to increase the shares of her children in the inheritance of their father, then she does well to forfeit the outstanding dower. But she must be made aware that she is under no obligation to do so. If she does not have enough to live on, she must be further told that she may be doing herself an injury by forfeiting her dower. To my mind, a woman need not forfeit her dower unless she wants to help her children and she is well-to-do, or if she knows that there is not enough in her deceased husband's estate to pay her dower.

• Dower: Deferred payment

How much should a man pay in dower at the present time? When and how should it be paid? What is the result of its non-payment or delayed payment? How is a husband who refuses to pay the dower penalized?

There is no fixed amount for a woman's dower. Normally, its amount is agreed upon by the husband and his prospective wife's guardian. Her guardian should consult her before consenting to the marriage. A dower may be in cash or kind and it may be the realization of some benefit to the prospective wife. The Prophet asked one of his companions who wanted to get married, how much he could afford in dower. When he learnt that the man did not have any money, the Prophet asked him whether he had learnt any parts of Qur'an. When the man answered that he knew certain surahs, the Prophet sanctioned the marriage on the basis that the husband would teach his wife those surahs. That was her dower.

In another incident, a man called Abu Talhah proposed to a Muslim woman. At that time he was not a Muslim. She said to him: you are not one to be rejected, but as you are a non-believer, a marriage between us is impossible. If you accept Islam, I will take that as dower and will ask you nothing more. The man became a Muslim and the Prophet sanctioned the marriage. His companions considered that she had the best dower of all. That is certainly true because by her marriage, she won a good man to Islam.

Normally, the dower is paid by the husband to his prospective wife before the marriage contract is made. Its amount is specified in the contract. The payment of the whole of the dower or any part of it may be deferred. If the dower is not paid before the marriage contract is made, it remains a debt owed to the woman by her husband. It does not affect the validity of the marriage. As long as the husband acknowledges his wife's right to her dower, and is willing to pay it should she demand payment, there is nothing wrong in delaying payment. If he defaults on payment, when a demand is made, the case may be put to a court of Islamic law which will immediately order the man to pay. In this case it is treated as a debt which is unpaid. Everything that applied to debts applies to unpaid dower. When the husband dies, his wife may claim her deferred dower from his estate and its payment is given priority since such priority is given to all debts left outstanding by the deceased.

I realize that in certain societies the dower is considered as a formality. It is specified but not paid and the bride is required to declare that she has forgone her right to it. Such a practice is unacceptable from the Islamic point of view.

[Added: The fixation as dower so high that it may be quite apparent that the prospective husband will never be able to pay such an amount, would be far from being realistic and would thus lose its sanctity. The husband knows from day one that he never will pay the dower. Such a position is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Likewise, a meager sum of money agreed between the parties, as is done by certain communities when they fix paltry sum of money as dower, purely as a customs, without any valid consideration, is also unrealistic and would amount to be only a formality. This is also unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. Dower is a serious matter. The fixation of dower should be realistic, meaningful and acceptable to both the parties.]

• Dower: Failure to pay dower

Is it necessary to pay the dower in full to one's bride at the time of the wedding, or can a woman waive it in full or in part? Is such a waiver enough to free the husband from paying it? If a man has not paid the dower to his wife and she has not waived it until she died, should the husband pay it to her parents?

The dower is one of the conditions of a valid marriage contract. It is money payable by the husband to his wife and it becomes her own property and she has sole discretion to dispense with it the way she likes. The amount of the dower should be specified at the time of the marriage. It becomes due and payable the moment the contract is made. If it is not mentioned or agreed at the time of the contract, it remains due. The husband and wife could agree on its amount at any time. If they do not agree, and the wife claims it, an Islamic court will judge in her favor. It will order the payment of a dower equivalent to what women in her social status normally receive.

Payment of the dower, or part of it, may be deferred if the two parties agree. In this case, it becomes a debt owed by the husband to his wife which she may claim at any time. If it remains unpaid, the husband must pay it when she dies and it becomes part of the estate of his wife. It thus goes to her heirs according to their shares. As you know, a husband receives one quarter of the property of his deceased wife, if she has a child. If she dies childless, he inherits half of her property.

If she foregoes the dower in part or in full, the husband may accept that waiver without any hesitation. This, however, must be done of the wife's free choice. She must not be pressured into it, nor can this waiver be extracted from her in ignorance. She must be told that it belongs to her and the waiver must be by her own free will.

• Dower: Reducing the agreed amount of dower

I recently married a relative of mine secretly without the presence of our parents. I tried to fix a reasonable dower, but my relative objected to it, demanding a very high dower to which I reluctantly agreed. Is there a way to reduce the agreed amount?

If your marriage with your cousin was in the absence of her parents, then who acted as her guardian [vakil]? It is essential for the validity of the marriage that the father or the guardian of the woman should act for her in the marriage contract. Of course he does not do anything to which she does not consent, but he should be the one to give that consent when the marriage contract is made. Most scholars would consider a marriage contract where a woman acts for herself to be invalid.

Only the Hanafi school of thought considers it to be valid because it treats it as an ordinary contract, and women have the full authority to enter into any ordinary contract or business transaction without reference to a husband, father or guardian.

Be that as it may, the immediate question you ask is about the possibility of reducing the agreed amount of dower. I am afraid that the only way to do that is to get your wife to forego part or all of that dower. You are not allowed to pressure her in any way to do so.

She has to give her consent freely. That is because the dower is a marriage apportion to which the woman is entitled to have in return for becoming lawful to her husband. She is free to determine that portion, and once it is agreed, it becomes payable. You may not deny her what you have agreed to pay. Since she has agreed to leave that unpaid, it seems to me she is only acting reasonably, to ensure that she would be in a comfortable position should anything go wrong with her marriage.

If so, then she is sensible, and you should make sure of looking after her properly. While this is so, then you need not worry about having to pay the dower immediately. A marriage contract may be made at any time, except when either party is in the state of Ihraam, or consecration during Umrah and pilgrimage.

• Dower: What dower to pay?

Could you please let me know what is the actual amount of dower, or mahr, prescribed by Islam.

This question has been coming up time after time. What I find strange about it is the request for an exact figure. Islam does not prescribe a particular amount which must be paid as a dower, or mahr, to be given by the prospective husband to his prospective wife at the time when their marriage contract is made. In establishing the right of the wife to have complete say in what she may do with her dower, Allah mentions in the Qur'an

" And if you give any of them (i.e. your women) a large amount, you may not take anything out of it. Would you take it when it is an absolute injustice and a clear sin? "

Only if the wife willingly and with clear mind and free choice forgo part of her dower to her husband, he may take it. The above quoted verse, which is No. 20 in Surah 4, makes it clear that the dower may be a very large amount. In this connection, it is useful to quote the famous report that Umar, the second caliph, wanted dowers to be moderate, he advised people while he was addressing them, before a Friday prayer not to let dowers exceed what the Prophet paid to his wives. A woman in the mosque objected to him and quoted this verse. The caliph acknowledged that the woman was right and he was wrong. [Added: This follows, therefore, that it is proper for women to attend prayers in mosques.]

Having said that, I should perhaps remind you of the Hadith which states that the best women are the fairest looking and cheapest in dower. This Hadith is taken as an encouragement to make dowers small so that they do not represent an impediment to marriage. It is often the case that young men have to delay marriage in order to raise funds to meet the expenses of establishing a new home. When dowers are cheap, the task is made that much easier. If they are expensive, marriage maybe delayed. This is bound to lead to results which Islam does not welcome. In short, a dower may be as little as one riyal, or even less, provided the bride willingly accepts that. On the other hand, it may be any amount the two parties agree between them. The dower must be of benefit to the woman and this benefit may be a moral, rather than material one. One of the companions of the Prophet was married in return for teaching his wife the surahs of the Qur'an he had learned. This is an educational benefit which is certainly valuable. No money was paid. That represented the dower, and the Prophet approved that.

• Dowry gifts to brides and their inheritance

In our part of the world, the agricultural land, which is left behind by the deceased, is distributed to his heirs automatically in the revenue records, but division of residential property and other movables is left to the heirs themselves. On the other hand, whether a prospective bridegroom makes a demand or not, it has become customary to pay one's daughter or sister a dowry, which is normally more than one can afford easily. The girl is told that she will not claim anything out of the residential property or movables on the death of her father, as she has already been given a dowry beyond her fair share of the estate. Most, if not all, girls consent to this. Even the girls' parents-in-law do not urge her to claim a share of her father's inheritance. How far does this practice fit with Islamic teachings?

There are two important points which need to be clarified with regard to this question: the first concerns the gift made by a father to his daughter at the time when she gets married and the second is her share of her father's inheritance and what happens to it. Two other points are perhaps secondary to this particular question, although they are major ones in their own right. These concern the linkage between dowry and inheritance, and the right of in-laws to a married woman's property. I will attempt to discuss the first two points and refer to the others briefly.

If a father decides to give one of his children a gift, he may do so. Once the son or daughter who has been given such a gift takes possession of it, it becomes his or hers, which means that it is no longer the property of the parent making the gift. However, a father, or indeed a parent, is required by Islam to maintain justice between his children. I have often quoted the Hadith of An-Nu'man ibn Basheer whose father came to the Prophet with him and said: "I would like you, Messenger of Allah, to witness the fact that I have given a slave as a gift to this child of mine." The Prophet asked him whether he has made a similar gift to every one of his children. When the father answered in the negative, the Prophet told him to seek some other witness for this transaction. He also said: "I do not witness injustice."

The fact that the Prophet called this type of action an injustice makes it forbidden, for all injustice is forbidden in Islam, even when it is a parent's injustice to his own children. Scholars, however, have pointed out that if there is a special case with regard to a particular child, then a gift to that child may be in order. They maintain in this connection the case of a child who is blind or has some other sort of handicap or a chronic illness which makes his situation rather difficult, he or she may be given a gift to ensure a more comfortable life for him or her.

In the case of a parent making gifts to his children, many scholars, including the imams Abu Hanifah, Malik and El-Shaf'ie prefer that all children, male or female, be given exactly the same. This is also reported to be the opinion of Ibn Abbas, the Prophet's cousin and companion who was one of the best learned scholars. However, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal prefers that such gifts be made in accordance with the children's share of inheritance. That means that a son is given twice as much as a daughter. [When the aim is to avoid cracks amongst heirs in claims for inheritance, the opinions of Abu-Nu'man ibn Basheer and the opinion of Ibn Abbas may be preferred.]

It is customary in many societies that parents give their children gifts when they get married. That applies to both sons and daughters. It is very often the case that a son may not have enough money to cover the expenses of his marriage. His parents often help him with much of what he needs. Similarly, when their daughter is about to be married, parents are ready with their help or their gifts. Such gifts must be looked upon as normal gifts. While parents need not give every one of their children a gift similar to that of the first one to get married, at the time of that marriage, they should be clear in their minds that they will do the same toward their other children when they marry.

As for inheritance, this becomes due when a person dies. Every one has heirs, according to his own situation and those of his immediate relatives who survive him. First degree heirs are the deceased's parents, children and spouse. Others may also be entitled to certain shares, according to particular circumstances. Heirs inherit by right. Their shares are apportioned by Allah. Perhaps it is useful to remember at this point that, from the Islamic point of view, we do not own our money or property. Whatever we possess belongs to Allah; we are only put in charge of it. That charge reverts to Allah on our death. He distributes it to our heirs the way He likes. He has only allowed us discretion to leave by will an amount of our property not exceeding one third of its total. We may leave that to the poor or to relatives who are not among our heirs. It is not permissible to leave by will anything to any of our natural heirs.

Suppose that a father has made certain gifts to some of his children, he cannot make a will in favor of the others in order to give them similar gifts. The reason is what I have just explained, that a person no longer owns anything of his property when he dies. He has no say over its distribution. The heirs have a title to their shares, as apportioned to them by Allah. When a man dies, his estate is not divided among his heirs if his widow is pregnant until she has delivered. This is due to the fact that what she delivers is bound to affect the shares of some, if not all of the other heirs. She may give birth to a son, a daughter, twins or triplets. In each case, the division of the estate will differ.

What worries me in the system you have outlined is the link which is made between the gifts given to a girl at her marriage and her share of the inheritance. That link is unacceptable. Let us not forget that if the man's other children will not get similar gifts to what his daughter gets at the time of her marriage, the action itself is described by the Prophet as injustice. Inheritance is something that Allah has decreed. How can the two be linked?

You have not explained what happens if a man has three daughters and one or two sons, or more children than that. Suppose that only two of the daughters get married during the lifetime of their father, will the third daughter have a share of the inheritance? You say that the authorities automatically divide the land he leaves behind among his heirs. Do they do that in accordance with the shares of inheritance assigned by Allah? Do they give one eighth of the land to the widow? Are the people in charge of the revenue records competent enough to determine who are the deceased's heirs and what share each of them receives? Will that girl, who has not been married, receive any share of it? You may say that her brothers will see to her marriage and provide a similar gift for her? What if she does not get married at all? It seems to me that the system, as it is, is simply designed to concentrate wealth in the hands of male children. Women are deprived of their rightful shares of inheritance. It is needless to say that this cannot be accepted by Islam at all.

May I also say briefly that the dowry system, which means that a bride receives from her father or her brothers gifts, in gold or real property or cash in an amount acceptable to her husband and his family, is different from the dower which Islam makes a condition of marriage. This dower is paid by the husband to his wife at the time when the marriage contract is made. It becomes her own money and she is fully entitled to dispense with it the way she likes.

You say that in return for her dowry, which often places much hardship on her father and his family, her parents-in-law do not bring any pressure to bear on her to claim a share of inheritance in her deceased father's estate. May I ask, what has her parents-in law got to do with her inheritance? Inheritance is one legitimate way of ownership. When a woman inherits something it becomes her own property. In Islam, a woman is fully entitled to manage, administer, invest or dispense with her property the way she likes, without any interference from her father or husband. She is fully qualified to make any transactions she wants. If she inherits something it does not become the property of her husband or his family. It remains her [property].

• Dress code: Western dresses and indecent dresses

Some people who are engaged in Islamic propagation work surest that Islam forbids wearing Western-type clothes. Please comment.

Those people who speak about the prohibition of certain types of clothes should know better. What is forbidden to wear is any garment, which does not cover the “awrah,” which is the part of the body that must not be revealed before any person. When those people say that a suit or time and shirt are forbidden to wear they forget that these are not worn by Westerners only. Muslims wear them in many countries where they are considered ordinary dress. How can these be forbidden?

Having said that, I would like to add that Islam has not made any special requirements with regard to clothes, either for men or women. What it requires is that the awrah must be covered, and that Muslim women should wear wide garments that are not eye-catching, too tight or transparent. These clothes should cover the whole of a woman’s body with the exception of their faces and hands. It also makes it clear that silk garments are forbidden to wear by men. But the style of clothes is not a question to which Islam attaches any importance. When Islam moved into new areas, its ethnic people who adopted Islam continued to wear the types of clothes they used to wear previously. No one ever suggested that they should wear what the Arabs used to wear.

• Drinking what is leftover by another person

Some scholars are of the opinion that it is sunnah to drink what is left over by another person in his glass. How could this be explained in the light of the fact that certain diseases can be transmitted this way?

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